Tuesday, April 24, 2007

FilmfestDC: Yatra, Silly Age, Education of Fairies; note about Antonio Vivaldi


The Washington DC International FilmfestDC in April 2007 brought a couple more major foreign films that enrich some challenging ideas already proposed in better known cinema. Most of the festival is being held in a former Cineplex Odeon / AMC property at 4000 Wisconsin Ave in Washington DC, five blocks south of the American University / Tenleytown Metro Stop. A Ruby Tuesday is next door, and the Presbyterian Center and NBC4 television station are nearby, as is the Dumbarton Creek hiking trail.

I volunteered Monday night, and was lucky enough, after taking tickets and passing out surveys, to catch two important films that I had overlooked. Besides “Yacoubian” (above), which I saw Sunday, there is the sprawling epic (129 min) from India, “Yatra” meaning “The Journey”, directed and written by Goutam Ghose, who was at the festival. The film, in full Cinemascope and first rate Dolby Digital, looks grand (even like “Ghandi” – the tomb is visited in the film) with its multiple shots of trains crossing the tropical but wasted countryside, and teeming Delhi. At one point, the script refers to the languages Urdu and Farsi, as if the embedded stories of love affairs would bridge the tribal and religious conflicts of that part of the world (farther to the west is coastal Pakistan and Karachi, leading to Afghanistan).

The movie’s protagonist is novelist Daserath Jogletar (Nana Paketar), who has just published one novel (“Janaza”) about a torrid adulterous love affair in the countryside. The movie will be about his recreation of the novel in his own life, with tragic results. But this does not happen before he lectures his audience on the harm being done by modern media to our kids (his has an appealing college age musician son himself), and counsels a filmmaker on the importance of storytelling in film screenwriting. He is planning another novel (“Bazaar”) that will play up the multiculturalism of the region. Both novels are acted out as “imagination” in the film with subdued colors of low saturation.

It’s always a challenge in a final film, how to put together different threads of story and history, in different time frames or “imagination spaces” to come up with the statement that the filmmaker wants. The idea of making a film about a book or a past incident does itself provide opportunities to present complex issues. I have broached this in one of my own scripts (“Make the A-List” (link)) and found, in screenwriting clinics and table readings, that such layering is hard for other class participants to follow without seeing the pictures. It’s hard, because with a spec script you are supposed to tell the story, and not present the whole movie as you see it. But Yatra, in the end, turns out to be a movie about screenwriting and movie making, in the tradition of “Sunset Boulevard” or even “The Dying Gaul.”

But the most startling point of this film is how dangerous fiction can be. The legal issues of fiction that too closely mimics real people (even oneself) are well known. But here the issue is whether fiction entices acting out, even by the author.

Earlier that evening I caught “The Silly Age” (La edad de la peseto) dir. Pavel Giroud, wr. Arturo Infante, labeled as Cuban, actually made in Venezuela. The film is dualistic. One on scale, it is a little companion piece to Andy Garcia’s “The Lost City” (Magnolia, 2006) about the fall of Havana to Castro and the end of a romantic, indulgent way of life for the “rich, decadent upper class.” It’s all about the proletariat and the bourgeoisie that you study in civics class. An earlier New Line film “Before Night Falls” also comes to mind. But here the meat of the movie is salad, a gentle Spanish fairy tale about a little boy that goes to live with his prissy grandmother, and finds all the wonders in her cupboard.

Both of these films need American distribution, and I would hope that Magnolia or Lions Gate would look at them. There is another entry for domestic distributors to look at, too. The film “Antonio Vivaldi, a Prince of Venice” directed by Jean-Louis Guillermou, did not arrive at the festival in print, despite sellouts. I hope a DVD surfaces, but there is no American distribution yet. But Boris Damast (with writer Jeffrey Freedman) plan another film in 2008 about Vivaldi (production Hand-Picked films). I note that imdb still says it is in pre-production for 2008 release. I am told by someone from the film that it should be in production by October 2007.

Sunday I also saw “The Education of Fairies” ("La educacion de las hadas", Buena Vista International (i.e., Miramax), 2006, dir. Jose Luis Cuerda, novel by Didier van Cauwelaert, 103 min. I was expecting an encore of “Pan’s Labyrinth” and here a marriage breakup and reunification is seen through the eyes of a little boy Raul who is taught by his dad about the birds and the bees (Mom is an ornithologist) in terms of fairy tales, and then the boy perceives an injured girl who enters their life as a “fairy.”

I also saw "Fay Grim", Hal Hartley 's belated sequel to "Henry Fool", and a tongue-in-cheek international chase thriller a bit in the style of "Charade": Parker Posey plays the Mom looking for hubby after the son gets a steganographic kaleidoscope. This is already in release from Magnolia as an HDNET film.

The Page Turner
("La tourneuse de pages", directed by Denis Dercourt), a slick revenge thriller about the music world already with distribution from Tartan Films, played in a small auditorium to a pleased crowd. There is a novella by that name by David Leavitt that became the subject of a Spanish film "Food of Love" dir. Ventura Pons, in 2002. There are more details here.

For an earlier post on "The Epic of Black Gold" at FilmfestDC, visit this link. There is a short (83 min) film from Telepool, Cinesite and Netflix (not, unfortunately, in the festival -- it needs to be!), "A Crude Awakening", (directed by Basil Gelpke and Ray McCormack) that presents a particularly grim picture of our soon-to-decline oil production, with the visual imagery of Amish carriages traveling at 9 mph. There is more discussion at this link.

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